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Posted on Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Ypsilanti reduces proposed cost and duration of street lighting fee

By Tom Perkins

The Ypsilanti City Council has significantly reduced the cost and duration of a special assessment district it is proposing to establish that would have residents pay for street lighting.

Instead of 18 years of annual fees that start near $100 and decrease over time to $67 annually, residents would only pay approximately $58 each of the next two years.

The two-year fee would pay for the cost to convert mercury vapor lights to LED lights, but residents are no longer being asked to pay the DTE Energy bills for powering the lights through 2031.

The amendment to the proposal was approved 5-0. Mayor Paul Schreiber and Council Member Susan Moeller were absent.

Under the previous proposal, a parcel owner would have paid an estimated $98 in fiscal year 2014 and $92 in fiscal year 2015. That figure will drop to $84 through fiscal year 2020 and $67.51 through fiscal year 2031.

The switch to LED lighting is expected to reduce the city’s electric bill by approximately $115,00 annually, from $515,000 to $400,000. The original proposal called for the residents to pay that $400,000 through the special assessment district.

The city is working to find savings to eliminate projected deficits, and the $400,000 annually saved under the proposed plan would buy it another year of solvency.

But council members expressed hesitancy to impose the fee on residents.

“I’m leaning toward the (new plan) or not having a special assessment district and having the city pay for it,” Council Member Dan Vogt said, though he called the idea a gamble.

He told the audience of around 30 that had gathered in opposition to the proposal that the city needs to do something to save money and stressed its dire financial situation.

“We will run out of money," he said. "It would take a new legislature, governor and new economy to change that, and even then I don't know that it would help us. So if we don’t assess for things like this, we will run out of money sooner for everything - police, fire, street repairs, sewer, water, you name it. That’s the background and we have to make a choice as a group.”

Mayor Pro Tem Lois Richardson echoed those thoughts.

“The decisions may not be in agreement with what everyone wants us to do, but we have to look at the whole,” she said.

On Tuesday, those who showed up to offer their opinion on the proposal with city council were opposed to property owners paying for the conversion LED lights and to pay the electric bill.

City staff discussed a number of benefits such as improved lighting, increased safety and a significant reduction in energy and the city’s carbon footprint.

But many residents were skeptical of those benefits.

“I don’t find much benefit to the streetlight outside my window at all,” said Ypsilanti resident Linda Thompson. “If the city can no longer afford streetlights, then turn them off. It would do a lot for the carbon footprint.”

Several residents charged that the fee is actually a new tax because the savings will be found in the city’s general fund and the lighting bill passed on to residents.

“I’m having trouble discerning what the benefit is ... because it looks like we’re taking something from the general fund and shifting it to a fee for citizens - it’s a tax,” said Ypsilanti resident Scott Northway. “I don’t see the benefit to the people who are paying the tax.”

Prior to the meeting, Mayor Schreiber said he opposed the idea because it is a regressive tax. Any property owner, despite income, lot size or any other variable, would pay $100.

“That’s a big negative,” he said. “It does buy us another year of solvency if we do the plan as outlined, but the question is is that years of solvency worth the regressive nature of the levy?”

The proposal has costs for conversion to LED along with operation and maintenance divided equally and assessed among 4,812 of the city’s 4,951 parcels.

Ann Arbor resident Ken Schwartz told city council he owns nine properties in the city, though six are contiguous vacant lots. He said the six lots were once one lot, but he voluntarily divided them up at the city’s request.

He said it would be unfair for him to have to pay the fee six times over.

“I agree that the special assessment district benefits the citizens, but I think there are exceptions,” he said.

Eastern Michigan University and city-owned lots are exempt. Non-profits and churches would be a part of the assessment.

In looking at other cities that have special assessment districts for streetlights in Michigan, all but Romulus used a flat fee, though those flat fees were much lower than the original figures for the 18-year tax.

The city will hold two more public hearings at its Aug. 20 and Sept. 6 regular City Council meetings.

Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter. Contact the news desk at


Ypsi Tax Payer

Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 4:11 a.m.

According to announcements mailed to voters about the hearing on Aug. 20th, there is still an 18 year assessment to pay for operating the lights. The 2 year portion is on replacement costs - but there's still 18 years of operating costs. The wording in article leads people to think after the 2 years there"s no more money collected - misleading!

Steve Pierce

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 4:16 a.m.

Jayjay, The reason there isn't a 50% savings is actual charge for electricity is about a third of the total annual costs charged by DTE. The rest of the cost is expenses from DTE to maintain the poles and lights, overhead and guaranteed profit. Cheers Steve


Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 6:55 p.m.

No way should EMU be exempt. Why are they not being included? The article needs to include why.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 2:02 p.m.

"We will run out of money," he said. "It would take a new legislature, governor and new economy to change that, and even then I don't know that it would help us. So if we don't assess for things like this, we will run out of money sooner for everything - police, fire, street repairs, sewer, water, you name it. That's the background and we have to make a choice as a group." Why don't we hear that when they are asked by businesses for tax breaks, like Sidetrack? Sidetrack's is a wildly successful business, and yet they were given a tax break in July.

michael Limmer

Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 8:52 p.m.

businesses shouldn't have to pay taxes. That is for, you know, hourly workers and such sort.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 2 p.m.

Can you imagine being forced to pay this fee if there is no street light anywhere near your property or the residence you rent?

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 1:58 p.m.

"Eastern Michigan University and city-owned lots are exempt." Ask them to pay. If they do not, turn their lights off. Why should they not be forced to pay?

Ypsi Tax Payer

Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

"The decisions may not be in agreement with what everyone wants us to do, but we have to look at the whole," she said. Basically, we don't listen to property owners/voters, not even a majority of them, because we are looking at it differently - in whole. Very insulting to those who take the time to vote and make their wishes known and to those who express opinions differing from Council.


Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

Faygo is spot on. Our city council members consistently and desperately seek out others to blame for the city's dire financial condition. The fact of the matter is that, over many years, the city's own elected and highly compensated appointed officials made very poor decisions that resulted in our current trajectory towards bankruptcy. This latest special assessment proposal to fund street lighting improvements solves nothing – short or long-term. It appears that the city's "plan" is to balance the budget by raiding fund balance reserves. How long can that continue before the reserves are gone…a couple of years at best? If Richardson is sincere about cost cutting and transparency in government, she should endorse making public the city funds that have been expended on her travel, conference and hotel expenses over the past several years.

joe golder

Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 12:27 p.m.

How many police would 515,000.00 put on the street.

joe golder

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 1:21 p.m.

More people will turn on porch lights and the DDA can pay to light up their business districts. Whats next free sun glasses to people who can't see on sunny days.


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 12:15 p.m.

about three..............not enough to cover the increased crime when the city goes dark..............


Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 12:23 p.m.

I still am amazed that no one has investigated why the savings for Ypsilanti are so small -- they should be at least 50%. LED lighting uses significantly less wattage than does mercury vapor to the tune of 50-65%, thus that should be the savings and no special assessment required at all. Who is getting the extra money that isn't going to Ypsilanti and its burdened residents? Where is fiduciary responsibility? The taxpayers ought to be"up in arms." They are getting hosed on this deal, even though it has gotten better. The sheer savings on LED vs mercury vapor ought to not only pay for the new lights, but it should leave a small surplus while the lights are being paid for. Someone needs to look deeper into this!


Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 12:18 p.m.

this is an improvement for sure but...I still don't like it because its not needed and the city hasn't done its homework and I don't see project controls that really make DTE step up to the plate with something real.


Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 12:15 p.m.

"We will run out of money," he said. "It would take a new legislature, governor and new economy to change that, and even then I don't know that it would help us. Of course it wouldn't. You had a different governor... Jenny didn't help either. Bottom line: Ypsilanti was not forced into this position by the legislature, governor, or the economy. I'll remind you that the economy was booming for years after Water Street was cleared. Misguided elected officials made the choices that put us here, and continue to make the choices that KEEP us here. I agree that this is a step in the right direction, but we're still not there if they are going to tax us an extra 600 dollars a year (notice that $600 is MORE than what the city income tax would have taken from most households in Ypsi.)

Ypsi Tax Payer

Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 12:06 p.m.

Council has approved a budget which includes income from this new tax, and they signed a contract with DTE - they want income for the general fund. Property owners continue to say No New Taxes while Council continues to look for ways to ignore those they represent. No new taxes!

joe golder

Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 11:42 a.m.

Turn off the street lights. If you walk around at night, buy a led head ban. There inexpensive and will provide light where ever you are.

joe golder

Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 1:21 p.m.

Thank you RU!


Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 1:17 p.m.


joe golder

Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 1:02 p.m.



Wed, Aug 7, 2013 : 10:56 a.m.

Water Street. Has there been any further development in the HUD/affordable housing/section 8 scandal (of sorts)? Or was that all completely resolved, money accounted for, and the department(s) streamlined a little bit?